All Stars (2013)

There may be nothing particularly surprising in this ‘putting on a show’ dance film — it almost aggressively pushes its clichés at the viewer, and the ending is a foregone conclusion — but it’s never anything less than joyfully enthusiastic about it.

At the heart of the film is the ‘Old Garage’, a youth centre somewhere in East London, which is under threat from property developers (represented by a delightfully scheming Mark Heap). Naturally the kids who use it aren’t having any of this, so under the leadership of Jaden (played by Akai) and an initially reluctant Ethan (Theo Stevenson), they audition acts for a variety show which will raise the amount of money required to save the place. If the film had been reliant on its will-they-won’t-they narrative resolution, then this last plot point would be the weakest in the script, especially given an earlier scene had stressed the decision was about the centre’s community value, and that this is the first mention of money. However, in (largely) making the centre’s survival about its value for the kids (played out against the corrupt local councillors in alliance with property developers), the film ensures that the youthful cast are placed firmly at the centre of the narrative. If this leaves the centre’s director (played by Ashley Jensen) largely sidelined, she nevertheless manages to make a sunnily cheerful presence as the kids’ only real adult cheerleader, given most of the parents are less than enthused about these extra-curricular activities.

The world that these kids inhabit remains an optimistic one at all times, as perhaps you’d expect in a U-rated film. It’s a scrubbed-up and colourfully graffitied place, with locations mostly in Shoreditch and Poplar it looks like, far from the kind of bleak crime-riddled East London of, say, Bullet Boy (2004), the break-out role for Ashley Walters, who plays one of Jaden’s parents in this film. In fact, his line about wanting to move somewhere quieter after Jaden is involved in a rather minor squabble raises some particularly hollow laughs, given that their home is on a leafy and quiet residential street (looking for all the world like a gentrified north London suburb such as Crouch End). On the whole, the film nobly resists the stereotypes about this part of London. The Old Garage is kitted out in trendy design features, the community environment is nurturing and supportive, the kids live on quiet streets and even the council estate is Erno Goldinger’s Trellick Tower, a masterpiece of post-war Brutalist architecture (whose smaller sibling, the Balfron Tower, is located in the area where All Stars is largely set, though it seems as if the filmmakers have used the more famous West London tower). Of course, this does make some of the geography a little fluid — the kids flit easily between East and West London, and even show up in Battersea Park at one point — but that’s hardly unusual for any film.

The focus of course is on the dance sequences. The ‘putting on a show’ trope is combined with Jaden (the resident streetdance expert) whipping the amateurs into shape. Ethan has no dance experience, he is just besotted with a girl in a rival West London streetdance gang. The other members of Jaden’s troupe have disparate backgrounds in martial arts and ballroom dancing, and naturally the group needs to take advantage of everyone’s respective strengths in order to best the rival gang (who are, for the record, both older and better, but that’s by the by) at the fundraising show. In practice, this means a number of montage training sequences, but the kids are largely winningly enthusiastic despite their sometimes broad caricatures. Jaden also features in a number of stylish dream sequences to round out the dance setpieces. It’s only a shame that Kimberley Walsh (the Girls Aloud member who has had recent success on the competitive TV show Strictly Come Dancing) doesn’t get her own dance sequence.

It may not break any cinematic ground, and of recent dance films it’s no Step Up Revolution (aka Step Up 4: Miami Heat, 2012), but All Stars is pretty good fun, optimistic in all the nicest ways and difficult to really take against.

Director Ben Gregor; Writer Paul Gerstenberger; Cinematographer Ben Wheeler; Starring Theo Stevenson, Akai Osei-Mansfield [as “Akai”], Ashley Jensen; Length 106 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue (3D), London, Monday 6 May 2013.


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